Did you know that Mithun Chakraborty was related to the Kapoor family? Or that Abrar Alvi was his uncle-in-law? Or that Raj Kapoor and Prem Chopra were brothers-in-law? You should take a look at the incredible Beth Watkin’s map of the Kapoor family tree and how its limbs spread through a significant portion of the Hindi film fraternity as we know it today. Or this classic 2009 article which talks about how the entire trade is one big family, quite literally!
But the job at hand is to talk about the relatively unknown members of the “First Family” of Hindi cinema. Right from Prithviraj Kapoor to Aadar Jain, the Kapoor bloodline has been in films for an unbroken span of 93 years. It was from Peshawar that Prithviraj set sail for Bombay, and landed a job as an actor when he was discovered by Imperial Film Company’s Bhagwati Prasad Mishra in 1929. He was even in Imperial’s great cinematic innovation of the 1930s, Alam Ara (1931), the first “talkie” and hence the first Hindi film in any sense. Prithviraj was soon to become a sought-after star. But Prithviraj Kapoor was by no means the only major actor of the Kapoor khandan working in the 30s. His step-brother followed him into the movies.
Prithviraj Kapoor was Diwan Basheshwarnath Kapoor’s son from his first marriage. Diwan later married once more, out of which he had six children: Trilok Kapoor, Amar Kapoor, Ram Kapoor, Vishi Kapoor, Kailash Kapoor, Prem Kapoor and Shanta Kapoor. Vishi Kapoor acted in films like Yeh Dil Kisko Doon (1963), Chhoti Si Mulaqat (1967), Aamne Saamne (1967) and Kanyadaan (1968). It was Trilok who made a name in the movies.
Back in the 1920s, the armed freedom struggle was rapidly gaining ground, and youngsters found themselves drawn to it. A great number of young boys and girls were enlisting in the movement. As always, many of the older folk tried to stop them, for fear that their kids were going astray. Diwan Basheshwarnath Kapoor was getting worried about his younger son Trilok. While his brother was busy building a career in films in faraway Bombay, Trilok Kapoor spent time with the unruly youth. Violence could flair up any moment. When Diwan communicated this to his elder son Prithviraj, he wrote to his brother. Trilok received a letter from Prithviraj Kapoor, instructing him to come to Bombay. Trilok respected his brother immensely, and a directive from him was like the voice of God Himself. That is how Trilok Kapoor, all of 19, landed on the Arabian shores.
The first film in which Trilok Kapoor appeared as a leading man was Char Darvesh (1933), also titled as Merchant of Arabia, in which he was pitted with stalwarts of the time like Kanan Devi and Angur Bala. The trouble is, though all accounts of Trilok’s journey allude to the fact that he came to Bombay and joined films, the cast and director (Prafulla Ghosh) seem to indicate that it was a Calcutta production. Be that as it may, the very next year, Trilok Kapoor got to share the screen with his brother Prithviraj in Seeta (1934). While Prithviraj played Ram, Trilok played his son Luv. In the next few years, Trilok carved a niche in mythological films.
Legendary singer Noor Jehan who later moved to Pakistan and came to be known as Mallika-E-Tarannum, was a busy singer-actor in the 30s, and she formed a very successful on-screen pair with Trilok Kapoor. A glittering instance of this partnership was K. Amarnath’s Mirza Sahiban (1947) in which they played the ill-fated lovers of Punjabi folklore. Trilok also had a very successful and productive pairing with Nirupa Roy, having worked together in over 18 films. His depictions of Shiva in films like Har Har Mahadev (1950), Shiv Shakti (1952) and Jai Mahadev (1955) were well-loved. By the 70s, Trilok Kapoor was playing character roles in a plethora of mainstream films. He appeared in a number of Raj Khosla films like Kachche Dhaage (1973), Shareef Badmaash (1973), Prem Kahani (1975), Main Tulsi Tere Aangan Ki (1978), Nehle Pe Dehlaa (1976) and Dostana (1980). Trilok also produced a film called Shiv Parvati (1962). His son Vijay Kapoor chose filmmaking as a vocation, and directed several films in the 70s and 80s, including a documentary on Hema Malini.
Subbiraj was a first cousin of Raj, Shashi and Shammi Kapoor. Prithviraj Kapoor’s step-sister Kailash Kakkar married C. Kakar, a studio manager at R.K. Studios. Subbiraj was their son. He was omnipresent as a character actor in hundreds of Hindi movies across 50 years, but precious little is known about him. One version of events says that like his father, he also was a studio manager at RK, when he stepped in front of the camera for Sohrab Modi’s Do Gunde (1959), directed by V.M. Vyas. It was a supporting role but Subbiraj was soon cast as the lead in a Punjabi film called Walait Pass (1961) opposite Shyama, and then opposite Kumkum in the Hindi film Salaam Mem Saheb (1961). His last major outing as a romantic lead may have been Chhaila Babu (1967) in which he was paired opposite Kumari Naaz, who eventually became his wife.
By the 80s, Subbiraj came to be cast in every second Hindi film as rich industrialists, often playing the heroin’s wealthy father or the hero’s mentor. Basu Chatterjee cast him in many of his films, donning a coat and scarf, often smoking a pipe. Basu also cast him in a negative mould for Ek Ruka Hua Faisla (1986) in which he plays one of the evil jurors. Right through the 80s and 90s, one would see Subbiraj in the egregious action films that seemed to be the norm. He was also a regular on Indian television, appearing in shows like Virasat and Chattan. Subbiraj’s last movie appearance was in the Saif Ali Khan - Pooja Bhatt-starrer Sanam Teri Kasam (2009), half a century after his debut.
Besides these two, there are other members of the extended Kapoor family who have done a few movies but were never spoken about, such as Shammi Kapoor’s son Aditya Raj Kapoor who directed two English films starring Rishi Kapoor and acted in about half a dozen films. Or Sanjana Kapoor, a rather talented actor who starred with Naseeruddin Shah in Hero Hiralal (1988), eventually chose to carry forward the Kapoor legacy in theatre, instead of films. But the likes of Trilok and Subbiraj had a long run in the cinemas, and yet it is somewhat shocking how little is known about them.